Keomi Gray

In my previous post about The Beloved, I mentioned the woman in the right area of the painting:

The Beloved, Dante Gabriel Rossetti

For the woman on the right, Rossetti used a model named Keomi Gray.  I’ve desperately searched for more information about her, but it’s quite difficult.  There doesn’t seem to be much written about her and if anyone has a book or a source to recommend, I would be grateful.  When I do find mentions of her, it is usually a short sentence sharing the fact that she was the lover of artist Frederick Sandys.  Why is it that I can’t seem to find a full length biography written about Sandys?  It would probably be the only way for me to find out more about the mysterious Keomi.

Most mentions of Keomi describe her as a gypsy and this is where I feel the need to confess my ignorance regarding the usage of the word.  I’ve never been quite clear as to whether or not it is an ethnic slur.  Since I am unsure, I won’t describe her as such because I don’t want to be insensitive to the culture.  I do know that Keomi was of Romani descent and living in a Roma encampment when the artist Frederick Sandys met her.  Sandys was married to Georgiana Creed; they were separated but never divorced.  So his relationship with Keomi was illicit but it seems to have been quite open.  Not only did his friends know of it, but author George Meredith put a character based on Keomi into The Adventures of Harry Richmond. 

In Jan Marsh’s biography of  Dante Gabriel Rossetti, she shares an anecdote that Keomi  once stoned a raven to death simply for amusement.  I wonder if this is true or if Keomi embellished the tale for shock value.  It also seems that Keomi and Sandys were comfortable with and socialized with Rossetti and Fanny Cornforth.  This was before tensions rose between Rossetti and Sandys.  Later, there would be a rift between them when Rossetti started to believe that Sandys was creating works that were far too similar to his.

Sandys painted her several times, usually as a femme fatale:

Morgan Le Fay, Frederick Sandys
Medea, Frederick Sandys
Vivien, Frederick Sandys

The Vivien painting especially reminds me of Rossetti’s work, so perhaps it was not just paranoia on DGR’s part.

I long to know more of Keomi– she intrigues me.  I wonder what her life was like in the encampment and how it did or did not change after becoming model/muse/lover to an artist.

I’m also curious to know how their relationship ended.  Or, at least, I assume it ended.  Because later Sandys, although still legally married, began an affair with an actress named Mary Emma Jones (also known as Miss Clive).  Sandys and Miss Clive went on to have ten children, possibly more.

Miss Clive:

Miss Clive in 'Love's Shadow', also known as 'Proud Maisie' by Frederick Sandys.
Miss Clive in ‘Love’s Shadow’, also known as ‘Proud Maisie’ by Frederick Sandys.

I know that Sandys remained with Miss Clive for the rest of his life and that they lived as common-law spouses.  But what of Keomi?  Did their relationship end and each moved on? Did she return to her life in the encampment?  I guess I would like to end this post as “to be continued” because I hope to eventually learn what became of her.

Editing to add:  Thank you to my friend Cathy Baker, who shared this link with me:  Keomi Gray Bonnett at Find A Grave.

27 thoughts on “Keomi Gray”

  1. She had children by Sandys as well! Looks like she went back to her previous life by marrying a horse dealer.

    • Samantha, thank you so much! And lovely to meet you. I’m so grateful that you could share information with me about Keomi. I hope she had a happy life

    • Hi Samantha…. just read your comment that Keomi Gray is your 3 times great grandmother. Which line are you on the family tree. She is also my ancestor but I do not want to say at the moment. I have pictures of her children and one of the boys she had is a spit of his dad (Frederick Sandy’s). You might be a long lost relative that we do not know of and I would love to get in contact with you and add you to the family tree if possible.. As you know Keomi had several children, which one is your great great Grandmother as this will help me identify you on the tree. I have photos of her children as adults. I’m the Grays bloodline. Hope to speak soon. Warmest wishes Queenie-Anne )o(

        • Hello Samantha,

          Keomi was my Great Great Grandmother’s sister, Who was called Jenty/Jane Gray.
          That makes us cousins.

          Keomi’s parents were Ossrie/Ossary and Eliza Gray ( Nee Hearn/Heron ).
          Eliza’s parents were Edward ( No Name) Hearn/Heron and Rosa Lovell.
          If you didn’t already know this , Let me know and I will give you more information.
          Warm Regards Lila.

  2. A book called “Frederick Sandys/A catalogue Raisonne 1829-1904” by Betty Elzea, shows a very good chalk drawing of Keomi. In 1876 Sandys was declared bankrupt with debts that included “two years’ arrears for child-maintenance.” This may, possibly, have reffered to some kind of support for Keomi’s children. The author also describes Keomi’s earthy sense of humour, and her “dark, unconventional beauty”. Keomi’s sister (Leborina) married a Barron, and Keomi married Charles Bonnett. “The Family Tree of Thomas and Elizabeth Gray” by Eric Trudgill which can be bought from The Romany and Traveller FHS shows Leborina’s sons marrying two Bonnetts and another son marrying Keomi’s granddaughter. The family was also involved with another artist called ‘Sir Alfred Munning’s’. In “Yesterdays World Museum” at Great Yarmouth there are many photo’s of the Barron family and Keomi may well be amongst them somewhere. When Keomi left Sandys she appears to have returned, with her 4 children, to her parents (according to Census’s) and worked as a “Licenced Hawker”. Some of her children appear to have been as unconventional as she had been. Ethel or Ethela, worked with ‘Buffalo Bills Wild West Show’ and also worked as a palmist. I hope this is of some interest.

    • Suzanne Barron’s note from Feb 18 2013 is definitely ‘of interest’ to me. Thank you. The Sandys 1876 bankruptcy records of ‘arrears for child maintenance’ refer to two of his children with Mary Emma Jones. Keomi must have returned to her family with her children to be supported by the Gray family. I wonder what they all thought of this? We will never know, I suppose. As Keomi’s four children were born in London, I wonder where in London? His first 3 children with M.E.Jones were born in ‘Brompton’, the 4th and 5th were born in Norwich in 1871 and 1872.

      • Keomi’s first three children, by Frederick, were born in Middlesex, London and the fourth in Norwich. However, researching on Ancestry site, I can find no proof of this other than on the Census records.
        I have discovered that “Ethela” was, in fact, Ethels cousin, and not in fact “my” Ethel. Ethela (or Athela/also called Ethel) was Leborina and Keomi’s brother, Alfred’s, daughter!!
        “My” Ethel was born 1863/64. In 1863 Frederick Sandys has started a petition to divorce his wife, Georgiana. This went on into 1864. In the papers it mentions that Frederick lived in the County of Middlesex. Georgiana believes Frederick is comitting adultery but is unable to name the other person. Frederick also accuses Georgiana but this is strongly refuted. (see Is it possible that Keomi and Frederick were being careful about records?

  3. Hello Queenie Anne, Samantha and Susanne,h

    I have just discovered this page as I have recently begun researching my fathers side of the family tree. He has since passed and so I am uncovering information piece meal. He was a Barron and his Keomi was his his GG Grandmother.

    I am very curious to speak with any of you further and wonder if you would be keen to do so? I am particularly curious about this romany side of the family and whilst have seen photos of Orsery and Keomi, I would very much like to see and understand more . Would any of you be interested in getting in touch?

    Many thanks in anticipation.

      • Hello Suzanne et al… Keomi and Sandys were my great great gran and granddad. Liberina (Keomi’s sister) had a son William Barron, who married Keomi’s granddaughter Maud (her mum was Ethel). Betty, I have a copy of your beautiful book of the Sandys paintings. My father was always very quiet about his family, but at the end of his life he used to talk of the Buffalo Bill and Ethel connection. I had two lovely aunts who were autistic which I attributed to the ‘cousin’ marriage, although my father always denied that they were cousins. He also wouldn’t hear of any gypsy connection, and refused to tell me and my sisters who my relations actually were. He must have known about Keomi and her family being ‘muses’, as I remember him being very affronted when he thought that a Munnings painting had been sold within the family (that I didn’t know!) by mistake.

  4. I am the author of the Catalogue Raisonne of the Work of Frederick Sandys (2001). I have been working on a biography for several years now and hope to publish it in due course.

    • Your book about Frederick Sandys was one of the first that I bought and was very helpful. It was amazing for me to see the sketches and paintings of Keomi. Many thanks, and I look forward to the next!

    • Hello Betty Elzea,
      I am just getting in contact as I am in my final year of University doing my dissertation on Frederick Sandys, and his sitters. I was just wondering if you could point me in any directions to dig a little deeper as, I am sure you are aware, there is not a lot of easily accessible information regarding this,

      Best wishes,
      Catherine Cooper

  5. I have bought kindle book. It is about keomi Gray it is. Called The gypsy model. By Bill MacFarlane. He is claiming he is related to keomi

    • I hope Bill MacFarlane has got his facts right! Sandys’s love-life is very complicated I can assure you! I am nearing the end of my writing of the biography of Frederick Sandys, however, it will take some fund-raising before I can get it published.

    • If you google ‘Bill Macfarlane’ there were some newspaper articles about his book in the past, (- which I think I read is about a fictional representation based on Keomi??). The articles also mention his relationship to Keomi.

  6. My gt gt grandfather is adolphus Gray brother of kiomi, leberina, louis, Alfred, Emma, jenty, children of ossery and Eliza Gray, adolphus’s children were bert, Alfred “who is my gt grandfather” kenzer, Barron, lily, Beatty, and Annie, I would love to find out more about my romany ancesters, more info please

  7. Lilian Gray was my Grand mother. She was married to my Grand father A.R ‘Pop’ Parkin I am the son of her eldest son Stanley V Parkin . I visited the grave of Adolphus a few years back after attending a family funeral in GT Yarmouth. Lilian had a number of children, All my aunts and uncles. The boys (my uncles) were Stanley ,Albert Freddy and Baron. the girls (My aunts) Gladys, Grace and Hilda. there was one other who died at childbirth.
    I was brought up a showman son and knew the Grays well . all sons of of Herbert I I believe. We did not travel together. but met quite often and I was a particular friend of Ollie Gray He and I worked together in Circus In the late forties) and Jeannie who I was very fond of when I was younger . I have a pre war WW2 photo somewhere of Herbert and a couple of his sons in front of an old WW1 military lorry with solid rubber tyres that was probably their pride and joy the time. I have a photo Of Nellie Grey Keomie’s daughter (I think ) and a model for Sir Alfred Munnings. He mentions her his autobiography and there is a quite famous painting of her in a red dress which was exhibited at the Royal Academy . I have a B/W photo of when she was in her thirties .
    Cushty Bok Ray Parkin

  8. Hello all, I’m Ben Gray, Barron Gray was my Great Grandfather. My Grandfather was Jim Gray who passed in 2000. I’d love to find out more about the family and anyone who knew Jim. Maybe a family reunion could be in order?


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